Andrew Weathers Ensemble: What Happens When We Stop
Full Spectrum Records

What Happens When We Stop, the latest full-length by the Oakland, California-based Andrew Weathers Ensemble, is a refreshing release on a number of levels. For one, drone recordings are often presented in the guise of electronically generated deep space drones, which makes Andrew Weathers' idea of merging the form with country blues all the more unusual… and welcome. And that the idea is realized by a group of live musicians using acoustic instruments makes the idea even more appetizing; in fact, the approach isn't terribly unlike what Cory Allen recently accomplished to marvelous effect on his vinyl outing The Great Order (Quiet Design). There's something about human beings generating a drone collectively that makes the endeavour more exciting than when it's done by a lone individual and gear. Issued on Full Spectrum, the label Weathers operates in tandem with Andrew Marino, the forty-minute What Happens When We Stop is available both digitally and as a limited edition photo-book with download code.

A gorgeous drone (“House Carpenter (Tanaka)”) introduces the album, its strings and harmonium blending to form a reverie of transporting character, after which the equally wonderful “Piedmont Drone” appears without interruption. It's in such settings that Weathers' ensemble truly shines in the way it unites its various elements—horns, woodwinds, piano, percussion, strings, et al.—into a panoramic vision. A stylistic shift occurs within “O/OU (Ensemble)” when acoustic guitar picking adds a countrified flavour to the underlying drone, and, spiked by a generous inclusion of slide guitar playing, the album's connection to American folk and blues traditions comes through vividly in “Mojave Layers.” The album ends strongly, too, with an uplifting slice of folk splendour called “Honest Woman Blues.”

What Happens When We Stop isn't, however, without an imperfection or two, the most glaring of which is the presence of vocals (on tracks such as “Hard, Ain't It Hard” and “Pale Face To The Sun,” for instance). Some might find the singing appealing for being delivered in such a natural manner, and, yes, the rustic approach is emblematic of the American Primitive tradition, but to these ears, the vocals aren't at the same level as the instrumental playing. My humble suggestion? Make the Andrew Weathers Ensemble a purely instrumental unit, or else bring in someone with a better set of pipes (Peter Broderick would be a good fit)—even if it would mean some of the outfit's distinctive persona might be sacrificed as a result.

May 2013